november’s artist: lou hirshman

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Louis (Lou) Hirshman was born in western Russia (now Ukraine), in 1905. His family lived in difficult circumstances, poverty and poor treatment of Jews motivated them to immigrate to the United States. His father and older siblings came to Philadelphia and began work in a factory, saving up to bring the rest of the family along. Four years later Lou was able to make the journey along with his Mother and another sibling. Life in Philadelphia was still very challenging and he remembered drawing pictures of food to make himself feel less hungry.

In tenth grade, Hirshman dropped out of school to pursue art full time. He primarily painted (oil) but later moved to sketching caricatures and gained some success. He also did some early films. Around this time, he started experimenting with using objects that he found in everyday life to create caricatures. He would take items that said something about the person and use them to form the faces. These were usually commentary on public figures. Such as the silver rocks and dime eye on the rich business mogul John D. Rockefeller or the painters brush and dustpan shirt full of manure for Adolf Hitler. He called these new pieces Constructions. During WWII, Lou was a member of the Army and created graphic work, such as posters and training aids for the war effort.

After the war, he began teaching at school run through the Philadelphia Museum of Modern Art and continued to create portraits of politicians. However as he got older, his work turned more to recreating the world around him in his Constructions style. He died in his home in Philadelphia in 1986 of age-related complications.

Today we will create our own “found art Constructions” like Lou Hirshman

1. Start by getting a clear picture of what you want to create. Do you want to tell a story or show an impression or design. You can make something recognizable or put items together to make an interesting design.

2. Now look at the supplies available and see how you can group them together on your piece of foam. Pick a handful of items and arrange them on the foam to see how they work together. Take plenty of time to rearrange and make sure everything works well together.

3. Once you are certain you have everything where you want it, glue the pieces into place. Add glue into the corners or underneath things if needed to make sure it feels secure.

october’s artist: frida kahlo

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Frida Kahlo de Rivera was born on July 6, 1907 in Mexico City. She was a larger than life personality, but had to overcome many obstacles in her life. The Mexican Revolution began during 1910, when Kahlo was three years old. She later gave her birth date as July 7, 1910, allegedly wanting her birth to coincide with the beginning of the revolution so her life would begin with the birth of modern Mexico. In her writings, she recalled that her mother would usher her and her sisters inside the house as gunfire echoed in the streets of her hometown. In her home, Kahlo was the third of four sisters. Her parents had miserable relationship and her mother was documented to be a depressed and domineering woman. Frida had a difficult relationship with her; but loved her father who was gentle and affectionate.

Kahlo contracted polio at age six, which left her right leg thinner than the left; she was self-conscious about it and disguised this later in life by wearing long skirts or trousers. To help her regain her strength, her father encouraged her to exercise and play sports. She took up bicycling, roller skating, swimming, boxing, and wrestling, despite the fact that many of these activities were then reserved for boys. She may have also been born with spina bifida, which would have affected both spinal and leg development.

In 1925, she was attending a premier school and studying to be a doctor when the bus she was riding in collided with a trolley, leaving her near dead. After 35 operations (mainly on her back and legs), she survived, but was left in a great deal of pain, and she spent three months recovering in a full body cast. Although she recovered from her injuries and eventually regained her ability to walk, she would deal with relapses of extreme pain for the remainder of her life. Often it left her confined to a hospital or bedridden for months at a time. The medical complications and permanent damage also prevented Kahlo from having a children later in life.

After her accident, Kahlo abandoned the study of medicine and began to paint to occupy herself during her three-month immobilization. Self-portraits were a dominant motif then. Kahlo once said, “I paint myself because I am so often alone and because I am the subject I know best.” Kahlo created at least 140 paintings, along with dozens of drawings and studies. Of her paintings, 55 are self-portraits which often incorporate symbolic portrayals of physical and psychological wounds. She insisted, “I never painted dreams. I painted my own reality.”

Kahlo was heavily influenced by indigenous Mexican culture, which is apparent in her use of bright colors, dramatic symbolism and primitive style. Christian and Jewish themes are often depicted in her work. She combined elements of the classic religious Mexican tradition with surrealist renderings. Even though some critics classify her as a surrealist, she rejected the label and the movement. Surrealism showed dreamlike, improbable subjects with photo-realistic accuracy. Kahlo said that she didn’t paint her dreams, but her reality, therefore she wasn’t surrealist.

As a young artist, Kahlo communicated with the celebrated Mexican painter Diego Rivera whose work she admired, asking him for advice about pursuing art as a career. He recognized her talent and encouraged her artistic development. They began an intimate relationship and were married in 1929, despite the disapproval of Kahlo’s mother. Frida and Diego had a tempestuous relationship. Both artists enjoyed much fame and interest in their lives in both Mexico and the United States. They were active Communists and did a lot of work to promote the political party. Kahlo died on July 13, 1954, soon after turning 47

Project: Self Portraits:

As you look at Frida Kahlo’s self portraits, there is a good physical likeness, but she also conveyed a lot of information about her thoughts and feelings. Today we are going to paint self portraits. Use the mirrors to observe the little details about your face, but also try to add information that will help the viewer understand your heart and mind as well.

  • Give each student and mirror and ask them to wait to start drawing, talk them through observing aspects of their face.
  • Point out the basic shape of their features and ask them to notice what makes unique, talk about the textures and colors you see.

Now guide them through a few basics for proportions, etc.

  • Your face is about the same size as your hand! Ask the students to put their hands on their faces. Then put their hands on the paper and make a little mark at the top of their middle finger and the base of their hand by their wrist. Then they can make the shape of their face as they look in the mirror.
  • Now lightly divide the face into fourths. They eyes should go just above that midline. (I like to tell the students that they need to leave room for their brains. Then point out the hairline and how we can see past it…that is where their brains go!)
  • The nose can be made by making a shallow “u” along the middle line, about halfway between the eyes and chin, then filling in nostrils. The rest can follow. Don’t forget eyebrows and the chin!
  • Finally, ask them to notice colors and textures and try to convey that. (ie. Hair is never just one color, notice the shadows and the pinkness of your checks, etc.)
  • Hopefully they have been thinking about other features of the portrait that will give information about their insides. Now that we have their outsides sketched in, add those things!

april’s artist: edward hopper

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Edward Hopper July 22, 1882 – May 15, 1967 New York, USA
*Born July 22, 1882, in Nyack, New York (a small shipbuilding community on the Hudson River.) You can see this influence in his many nautical themed works. He loved the sea. *He was the younger of two children in an educated middle-class family. His family was supportive of his art. *At age 5, people were noticing his natural talent. *Hopper trained as an illustrator and devoted much of his early career to advertising and etchings. (He has been quoted on it being confining work though.) *After moving to New York City, Hopper began to paint the common places of urban life with still, anonymous figures, and compositions that evoke a sense of loneliness. *He was able to make several trips abroad to Paris and Spain in the early 1900s. He loved the impressionists, especially Manet and Monet and Cezanne. Their work highly influenced his. *He took the Impressionist fascination with light and used it in a much more detailed and realistic way. Critics dubbed it “soft realism”. Though most critics felt Hopper was a realist, he felt he was an Impressionist. *In 1924, he married Josephine Nivison, who was also a painter and the two worked side-by-side for the rest of their lives. She was almost always the model in his pictures and was often called his muse. *His first showing (and the first of his work that was bought by a museum) came because Jo was invited to exhibit in the Brooklyn Museum and she convinced them to accept her husband’s work as well.
“Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.” -Edward Hopper
watercolor paper scrap sheet of paper watercolors brushes pencil masking tape
1. Think of a place you like or a place that has a strong emotion tied to it. Paint something from life that you know well. (The best artists don’t tend to paint a pretty landscape with flowers and a sun in the corner; but something that has a vivid emotion or a story to tell.) Keep in mind Edward Hopper’s dramatic shadows and crisp angles. Try out his lonely settings where the people tend to blend into the background. 2. Very lightly sketch where you want the details on your paper. Only put in the broadest details! Do not draw a lot and try to draw very lightly because the pencil lead tends to smear in the paint. 3. Now start with the background, put in the sky and surrounding ground. You can mix the watercolors and test on the extra sheet of paper as needed. 4. Work from the back to the front of your painting. (ie. If you are making a person, paint in the face, then the hair, then go back in and add facial features after the skin tone has had a bit of time to dry. For a landscape, put in the sky, the grass and then go back in and put the trees or the swingset. Etc.)

march’s artist: georges seurat

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Georges-Pierre Seurat was born on December 2, 1859 in Paris, France. His father was an upper class customs official who traveled frequently and didn’t spend much time with the family. He was very close with his mother and brother and sister. He took art lessons as a child and at age 16, Seurat began his formal education to under a local prominent sculptor. From 1878 to 1879, Georges Seurat was enrolled at the famous École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. However, feeling frustrated with the school’s strict academic methods, he left and continued to study on his own.

Seurat was energized by the Impressionists with their radical painting methods. However painting was not just emotion for Seurat. He was fascinated with the science of art and approached his work from a mathematical perspective. In the mid-1880s, Seurat developed a style of painting that came to be called Divisionism or Pointillism. Rather than blending colors together on his palette, he dabbed tiny strokes or “points” of pure color onto the canvas. When he placed colors side by side, they would appear to blend when viewed from a distance, producing luminous, shimmering color effects through “optical mixing.” Sadly his career was cut short when he passed away from an illness (most likely pneumonia or meningitis) on March 29, 1891 at age 32. Although he did not paint for many years, he greatly influenced modern painting. His writings as well as his technique were pivotal in shaping modern art and Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte is one of the most recognizable paintings even today.

We will try our own hand at Pointillism today. After passing out the canvas boards to each student, give them these instructions:

1. Canvas boards are used by real artists. We only have enough for each student to have one. However the great thing about paint is that if you make a mistake, you can just wipe it off and paint over it! We will also share palettes (or paper plates) with a partner because this type of painting tends to use less paint. (Make sure to start with dime size squirts of paint. They are welcome to have more if needed, but this will help cut down on waste.) Also remind the students that brushes can only spread paint from the tip; so just gently dab in the paint for best results.

2. Seurat did not mix paints before applying them to the canvas, he used small dots of analogous or harmonic colors (colors that are close to each other on the color wheel) to deepen the colors or create a secondary color. To shade, you can use points of complementary colors (colors that are across from each other on the color wheel, which will intensify each other but also mix together to make a grey/brown.)

3. Sketch out your picture, you might want to keep it somewhat simple. Seurat loved showing scenes of everyday life.

2. Now fill in the space with little points of color. Keep the close together to get the best look.

*After the students are done painting, please carefully wash all of the brushes (I often let a fast finisher take the first pass at them, and then run them under water and check to make sure the paint is completely cleaned out. Then place back in the cup with the brush end up.

february’s artist: njideka crosby

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Njideka Akunyili Crosby was born in 1983 in Enugu Nigeria. Her father was a surgeon and her mother was a professor of pharmacology at the University of Nigeria. They highly valued education and sent her and her 5 siblings to the best schools possible. At age 10, she was sent to Queen’s College boarding school (one of the best in the country) which was 9 hours away from her parents. A few years later, her mother was able to get green cards for her and her sister to study in America. They moved to Philadelphia where she took an art class while working on her undergraduate work for a medical degree. She did not get into the medical school she wanted to attend, but found that her interest had changed to art. She changed her course of study and ultimately received a Masters in Fine Art from Yale in 2011.

During her studies she met and married musical artist, Justin Crosby and had a son, Jideora, in 2016. In the last nine years, Njideka has won many prestigious prizes and fellowships for her art, including being named the artist in residence at the Studio Museum in Harlem and was named a 2017 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles, CA.

Her primary mediums include collage, photo transfer, acrylic paint, charcoal, fabric, and colored pencil. She layers paint, with the collage elements to create an intricate scene that shows both a domestic moment and the biographical information that creates those moments. Njideka often portrays herself and family members in her work and uses copies of the photos her family has in their single family album. She says that this is her most treasured belonging. She also uses “portrait fabric” which is made for weddings, burials, campaigns or any important life events in Africa. This creates a complex story for each scene she paints. She lays out what she wants to do in an initial sketch, then chooses the media to add and problem solves how to best use it in the space. Crosby says it takes about 12 sketches to get to the final piece where everything is laid out well together. It is an incredibly time consuming process each painting takes an average of three month of daily, full time work.

Today we will create our own multimedia scene. You may want to pick an average moment from your life, maybe including family members like Njideka does.

1. Choose your scene and sketch it on the card stock. Go over the lines if needed to make sure they are fairly bold.

2. Use the magazine pages and scrapbook paper to add interesting elements to your design. Trim them to the size and shape needed then glue them down.

3. Now use the colored pencils and pastels to tie everything together and add in details.

january’s artist: leonardo da vinci

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Leonardo da Vinci was born on the 14th or 15th of April, 1452. Da Vinci refers to the town he was born in (Vinci, which is in the Florence region). His full name is Lionardo di ser Piero da Vinci, which translates to Leonardo, son of Piero, from Venice. His father was a notary, which was an upper middle class position and his mother was a peasant woman. Because he was born out of wedlock he wasn’t considered part of the family and not much was recorded of his early life. Around the age of 14, he went to work in the studio of a local artist, Verrocchio. His studies included drafting, chemistry, metallurgy, metal working, plaster casting, leather working, mechanics, and wood-work, as well as artistic skills like drawing, painting, sculpting, and modeling. He finished his apprenticeship and was accepted into Guild of Saint Luke, for artists and doctors of medicine around age 20. He continued to work and live closely with Verrocchio whom he admired greatly. (We know this from his extensive writings).

Around the late 1400-early 1500’s he worked primarily as a military architect and engineer, designing weaponry and defenses in Milan and Venice. In 1502 he created a map of the Imola region for Cesare Borgia (the son of the Pope and a great military leader). Maps were extremely rare at this point and it was this project that put Leonardo into a position of recognition. By 1503, he was back in Florence and working with the Guild of St. Luke again. This was when he began the portrait of Lisa del Giocondo, which would become known as the Mona Lisa. He would continue to work on this piece for the rest of his life. Many people comment on Lisa’s mysterious smile, but there are many other reasons why this piece is so impressive. The background is an unusual mythical landscape, unlike anything Leonardo would have seen in his lifetime. Such inventive painting was never done in Leonardo’s time. Most importantly though, is his mastery of the sfumato technique of painting. This is a painstaking method of subtly shading to a very fine point. There aren’t any solid lines in the Mona Lisa; the edges are created with very precise shading. This gives everything, a well turned three dimensional feel.

In 1513, he was invited to Rome and was the guest of the Pope’s family (the Medicis) where Raphael and Michelangelo were both working. Here he was free to pursue anything that interested him, from gardening, to dissecting cadavers to write a treatise on how vocal chords work. It was during this time that historians think he had the first of a series of strokes that eventually lead to his death. However he was still prolific during this time; creating the plans for palace for King Francis I of France (he was one of the King’s favorite people). He also built a mechanical lion that walked toward the king during a ceremony, then when it was tapped with a special wand, the chest opened revealing a cluster of lilies. Reports of him becoming more ill, as well the loss of mobility in his right arm are recorded over the next few years. He died at Clos Lucé, France on 2 May 1519 at the age of 67, possibly of a stroke.

It is interesting that popular culture remembers Leonardo da Vinci most for his paintings because he produced relatively few painted works. Although he was among the first to use oil paint, which replaced tempera as the most popular medium in the late 1400s and continues to be the most common media for fine art. Da Vinci produced many, many more drawings. He was a skilled draftsman and came up with ideas for an armored tank, flying machine, hydraulic pump, crossbow, and parachute that inspired the real creations when technology finally caught up to his imagination. He even created his own mirrored, short hand “language” to write in. Even though he had little formal education growing up, he had an insatiable thirst for knowledge and sought out answers to all of the questions that came to mind. It was his interest in so many different disciplines that made Leonardo da Vinci such a remarkable person and one of the greatest thinkers in history.

Today we will try thinking like Leonardo. Take a moment to think about what you do on a daily basis. What could you make to make life run more smoothly, make a job you don’t like easier, or just make your daily routine a little more interesting? Draw all of the specifications for your invention with any explanations needed written next to your drawings.

See what students can think of, then spend a little time letting the students share their ideas with each other.

december’s artist: helen frankenthaler

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Helen Frankenthaler was born on December 12, 1928 in New York City to an upper class family. Her father was a supreme court judge and her mother encouraged Helen and her two sisters to train for a career in any field they chose. (Which was somewhat uncommon for the era.) She attended several prestigious private schools and studied under well-known artists.

She married another artist Robert Motherwell in 1958. They were called “the golden couple” of art and were known for lavish parties and their place in both the social and art worlds of New York City.

With an art career that spanned over sixty years, Frankenthaler has had shifts in her styles, but her work is quickly recognized for it’s fluid and spontaneous feel. She described it as a simplified image on very large murals. She once said “A really good picture looks as if it’s happened at once.” Helen was a part of the Abstract Expressionist movement. (abstract: not representational or depicting an easily identified subject and expressionist referring to expressing emotion) These artists felt that the viewer should be included in creating the meaning of the the piece of art. One painting could be interpreted many different ways, depending on the viewer and their response to the piece.

Later in her career, she began to join different areas together with blocks of color (referred to as fields.) She was one of the pioneers of the Color Field movement. She influenced artist like Mark Rothko, whom we studied last year. She also began to make prints and wood cuts in her later years.

Helen was often cited for being a successful woman in a field dominated by men. Even though there are more modern female painters, it was difficult for women to have a big impact in the commercial art world. Her work is unmistakably feminine; which she was sometimes criticized for. In a 1972 interview she said: “For me, being a ‘lady painter’ was never an issue, I don’t resent being a female painter. I don’t exploit it. I paint.”

Although she was generally a private person and preferred to stay out of the spotlight, Frankenthaler led the National Arts Endowment during a tumultuous time in the 1980s. She stopped the practice of liberal grants to very experimental artists which helped turn the trend in art culture away from the radical back more towards traditional practices. She was awarded the National Medal of Arts from President George W. Bush in 2002. She died on December 27, 2011 at the age 83 in Darien, Connecticut.

Although Helen Frankenthaler worked primarily in acrylic paint (which is the thick paint we use when we paint canvases each year.) She thinned the paint drastically to give it the fluidity of water color. Today we will experiment with breaking an image down into it’s very most basic shapes and forms to make an abstract painting.

1. Show the students the picture I used for reference and my example and discuss how you can see the basic shapes even though the color is different and the form isn’t exactly the same. Ask the students if they can see the scene I was inspired by in the picture.

2. Now talk about how the students can take one of their favorite things or places and deconstruct it to create an abstract piece.

3. Use the watercolors to create fields and larger shapes of color, then add in details as you’d like with the smaller brushes and pastels on top.

november’s art: mosaics

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Mosaics has been used for decoration for over 4000 years. These oldest examples come from the Mesopotamian Empire (a region located in Modern day Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Turkey). Many other ancient cultures decorated their temples, civic buildings and even the homes of the noble classes with mosaics on floors, walls and even ceilings. The earliest mosaics were made with bits of colored stones, glass and other materials.

Mosaic as an art form developed even further with the Greeks, who took the stones and pebbles and pushed them into clay to create more intricate designs. However, they reached a new high with the Romans, in Africa and Syria, the wealthiest Roman provinces. Beautiful floors have been found in Herculaneum and Pompeii. The mosaics in the Roman Empire featured domestic scenes, geometric designs and depictions of the gods in their pantheon.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, mosaics in the Byzantine era (which refers to the Eastern inhabitants of the Roman Empire that grew into it’s own civilization.) went from mainly floor decorations to beautiful and intricate wall pieces that depicted religious subjects. Until now, most mosaics adorned floors and so were usually made of colored stones that could withstand people walking on them. Because the Byzantines put mosaics on the walls, they could also use fragile materials, like mother of pearl, gold and silver leaf, and glass of different colors. Small glass tiles, (or tesserae) were placed at angles to catch and reflect the light, creating a sparkling, richly colored glow.

At the same time, further east in the Islamic world, mosaics were also developing, with stone and depictions of geometric figures and mathematical principals. The Islamic technique was slightly different. Artisans would carefully create tiles specifically for the project, handworking each tile to ensure a custom fit instead of choosing a stone or tile that fits well enough into the piece and working around it.

Today’s artisans and crafters work with stone, ceramics, shells, art glass, mirror, beads, and even odd items like doll parts, pearls, or photographs. While ancient mosaics tended to be architectural, modern mosaics are found covering everything from park benches and flowerpots to guitars and bicycles. Items can be as small as an earring or as large as a house.

Today we will use tesserae or small tiles to make our own mosaics. Because grout is messy and a little difficult to use, we will glue our tiles down and leave them ungrouted like the Byzantines. (Grout is a glue made out of sand that cements the tiles together.)

1. Pick a round or square board for your mosaic. Lay it down on top of a piece of wax paper to protect desks from glue and give you something to handle while the mosaic is drying.

2. Lay the tiles out on the board and arrange them to make a deign. DO NOT glue until you have figured out the design and have it exactly how you want it. The tiles can go off the edges a little, but you will want all of the tiles to have a good backing so they don’t pop off.

3. Pick up each tile and squeeze a good amount of glue onto the back, then carefully place it back on the board.

4. Pick up your whole project by the wax paper and carefully place it in the drying area your teacher recommends. They will be very fragile until the glue has dried. (They won’t be ready to take home until tomorrow.)

october’s artist: wassily kandinsky

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Wassily (Wassilyevich) Kandinsky was born on December 16, 1866 in Moscow, but spent his childhood in what is now Ukraine. He lived a comfortable, middle class life. His father was a tea merchant from Siberia, his mother descended from Mongolian aristocracy. Although he studied a variety of subjects in school, including economics and law, he often said that he was drawn to art and especially color from a very young age. He talked about noticing the colors of the landscape around him and feeling like he was stepping into a painting when he was a young boy. It wasn’t until he was thirty, however, that he left a thriving career teaching law to pursue art full time. It was slow to start. He wasn’t immediately accepted into art school so he worked on his own, taking classes where possible.

His early work was heavily influenced by Russian folk tales and often had themes from these stories as well as stories from the bible loosely depicted. Although his early work was much more representational (meaning it has an identifiable person, place. and/or thing) it was still somewhat abstract. Kandinsky wanted his view to focus more on the emotion they felt. He wasn’t traditionally religious, but he was deeply spiritual. To him, painting was a spiritual action and he wanted the view to be involved in creating the meaning behind each piece.

You can see this even more as his art quickly becomes more and abstract (meaning that you can tell exactly what it represents). He is considered to be one of the fathers of abstract art and the term ‘abstract expressionist’ (which would become more common in later years) was coined to describe his work.

Kandinsky was passionate about music and felt that visual art and music went hand in hand. He said “Colour is the keyboard, the eyes are the hammers, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand which plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul” He used color to show his emotion or response to the subject, rather than to describe what the subject looks like. He once said that he is trying to express his soul rather than represent the world. He believed in color as it’s own form, not as something that helps describe an object. He also used musical terms to describe his work. He called his most spontaneous paintings “improvisations” and described more elaborate works as “compositions.”

Although people had a hard time understanding his work during the first few showings, he became successful fairly quickly and was teaching art as well as painting in Germany when WWI started. He was targeted by the Nazis and many of his paintings were burned. After the war, he settled in France where he lived the rest of his life, dying of a stroke at age 78 on December 13, 1944.

Today we will experiment with line and color to make an abstract painting like Wassily Kandinsky. Instead of thinking of a picture that you would like to draw, think of a feeling. Do you want your painting to be happy or sad? Chaotic or peaceful? Kandinsky, like many other artists, felt that warm colors (Red, yellow, orange) showed energy and excitement. While cool colors (blue, green, purple) were calming and peaceful.

1. Play the CD on the art cart, tell the students to listen to the music and see if they can see what Kandinsky might have been trying to paint as they listen to “Titan” by Gustav Mahler.

2. Use the crayons to create the shapes on a piece of cardstock, make it as simple or complex as you’d like!

3. Use the watercolors to add color and interest. Observe how the paint doesn’t stick to the crayon. How can you use this to make interesting designs.

*Fast finishers are welcome to try more than one painting!

may’s artist: caravaggio

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Michelangelo Merisi de Caravagio was born was born on September 29,1571 in the small town of Caravagio, which is outside of Milan, Italy. His father was an assistant to a local nobleman and he grew up in a moderately comfortable life. However, Caravaggio lost both of his parents to plague during his teen years. After his mother passed away he became an apprentice with a painter in Milan. During this time, he trained in the Lombard style, which valued simplicity and attention to natural details. This would show in his work throughout his life. After his apprenticeship, he went to work in a factory like setting painting painting flowers and fruit for the work of a master. This was the common practice at the time, artists would work their way up from painting background details in a better known artist’s workshop until they had gained enough skill and notoriety to open their own studio. Although many artists never rose above this more craftsman like position. However, this was a great time to be a painter in Rome. The Catholic church was expanding rapidly and needed art to fill the new cathedrals and other buildings being constructed. During this time, he developed a dramatic style of lighting to create intense tension and emotion in his paintings. This style, called chiaroscuro, uses a very dark background with dramatically lit subjects.

Caravaggio was rebellious from the beginning of his study. Instead of the perfectly depicted gods of the ancient Greek and Roman sculpture that apprentices faithfully reproduced, he would emphasize their humanity, playing it up to extremes. He infamously painted the god Bacchus (who was the god of fertility and wine-making, essentially the embodiment of the good life) as green and sickly. He painted David and Goliath, but put himself as the beheaded Goliath.

It is not hard to imagine that his contrary nature showed in his interpersonal relationships as well. He had many tumultuous interactions with other artists, especially during his apprenticeship years. He left Milan for Rome after getting into trouble for assaulting a police officer. Then fled Rome after killing another man in a brawl and being sentenced to death in 1606. For the next four years, Caravaggio lived in Naples and Malta (Which were outside of Roman jurisdiction and allowed him to evade punishment). He was knighted and briefly served in the Knights of Malta, but was imprisoned and expelled from the Knights for badly injuring another knight during yet another brawl.

Everywhere he went, Caravaggio was almost immediately successful, but his prideful manner and quick temper made it hard for him to stay anywhere for long. Hoping to gain a pardon from the Pope, He made his was back to Rome and died during the journey in July of 1610. There are varying accounts on what happened. He may have died from a fever, which he had complained to friends about having. Some experts feel it may have been the final stages of lead poisoning from his paints. Others feel that he was most likely killed in a fight or as revenge from the earlier incident with the powerful knight in Malta. However he died, Caravaggio’s influence on art was immediate and profound. He began a shift back to more natural and realistic proportions in art (At this time, the main school of art was Mannerism, which followed the Renaissance. The interest in ideal proportions was so exaggerated that figures often had elegant but very unnatural dimensions and form.) Chiaroscuro is a technique used frequently today to give weight to the subject of a painting and help move the viewer’s eye to what the artist feel is most important.

Today, we will try our hand at chiaroscuro. Think about a dramatic story or scene, then use the chalk pastels to capture it on paper. Set up the scene so that it creates a diagonal line of the most important information in the paper. (See how the shafts of light in Caravaggio fall in a horizontal line across the subjects. Use the light colors sparingly, so that the areas you want the viewer to focus on will jump from the page. You can blend the colors by gently rubbing in a small circle with a finger.

After the picture is complete, spray lightly, holding the can 6” from the paper to set the chalk.